The Rev. A. Thomas Kennedy was ordained in 1971 and served several churches in the San Francisco Bay Area before being called to St. Paul’s Church in Blackfoot, Idaho in 1980. Though supposedly retired, Fr. Tom serves Idaho’s Central Deanery as a “circuit rider” priest in four congregations four Sundays a month. He is also a fount of knowledge about art and church history, the classics and all things “high” church. We are delighted that Fr. Tom has agreed to try this new format for learning by submitting a post for our blog!
The word “office” in this context merely means a deliberate act in the broadest sense. It may only mean a deliberate pause – purposeful inaction. The five daily offices are:
Morning Prayer or Lauds
Worship at Dusk or the Blessing of the Lights
Vespers or Evening Prayer
None of these offices was ever intended to become a performance by experts before a relatively passive congregation in (low) church. There is no audience, but God. No one is performing, not even before God. The offices were never meant as opportunities for extroverts to exhibit themselves. If anything, the offices are an opportunity for extroverts to be introverts for a little while, an opportunity for even very outward, focused, mechanical people to practice inwardness, self-awareness, self-examination. Just don’t be too subjective.
Each office is meant to sung or said daily so as to interrupt or be fitted into whatever else we have to do, . . . in order that the offices may become sub-consciously the structure of each active day, and so that the offices come, in time, to shine a critical light on all else we have to do throughout the day. A habit of daily offices becomes a habit of ethical self-awareness. The healthy, happy effect of such a daily discipline can not be described; it much be experienced to be believed. Needless to say, active people will need to keep their offices brief. Do not, for piety, add more and more words or actions to your customary worship. That may cause you to feel tedium and neglect the custom altogether.
Each of our offices has a two thousand year history. Parts of each office are twice that old. Parts of each office have several times been added, omitted, then included again through the centuries. Each office was, primitively, nothing but the “praying” of all the psalms in an annual rota. Nearly every phrase in every office is quoted or paraphrased from the Old or New Testament. To recite an office is to recite the very word of God. The Church, world-wide, has said these offices for millennia and still says them. Consequently, whenever you say or enact an office, you are never alone because you are joining in worship, intimately, with your fellow Christians in every place on Earth, and with the saints who have gone before us into the Light.
Each office is formal, traditional. This tradition precludes anyone creating his or her own self-expressive choreography. In each office, we join the Church. We worship with the rest of the Christians throughout the world. The very conventionality of our worship is a way of affirming our union with the one, indivisible body which is of Christ, which is timeless.
When we say or sing an office, what do we intend to be doing to, for, with, or about God? With both our minds and our bodies, we are worshiping God? Worship consists of at least the following: Offering and Prayer.
We may actually make a physical offering of money or some other gift. Any offering must be offered voluntarily, not as the discharge of some obligation, nor as a purchase of God’s favor. Above all, any offering is an offering of one’s whole self, the unreserved, frank, naked, perhaps embarrassing opening up of one’s self to God. Of course, God already knows all of that. What he wants from you is your honesty, frankness. He doesn’t need information or advice. And yet, even when you do offer what you think is information and advice, he may well love you the more for it.
Likewise prayer: God accepts almost any prayer, no matter how self-deceptive, sycophantic, and hypocritical; nevertheless, every prayer ought to come from within and should be unreserved, not self-deceptive. In prayer, we have to come in close to God, with mind exposed, naked, perhaps embarrassed. Doesn’t God already know all we show him? Of course, and far more. But, do we? God demands that we face the whole truth. Here is where humility fits in. Jesus tells us to expose before God our greed, deepest desires, passions, fears, and shame. What God demands is our own self-knowledge, our frankness.
Because all prayer – indeed any worship – is the practice of the presence of God. In the prayers of the offices, as in any worship, I deliberately place my total self in God’s presence, immediately (not through any intermediary) and intimately, daringly – nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball – at least five times a day.
As we say each word or perform each gesture, of any of the offices, we must keep this openness and intimacy in the very front of our recollection.